KAUFMANN: Navigating the new normal

When the stay-at-home orders began, I felt disoriented. New information and guidelines seemed to accost us on a daily basis. Stress mounted as we waited for the next decision: would schools close completely? Businesses?

If normal life were a rug, it was pulled out from under our feet slowly, and then completely with an enormous tug. Do you remember feeling sadness? Anger? Fear?

Online, I saw friends post things like: “When things get back to normal, I am going to give everyone big, long hugs!” These made me smile. Our initial assumption was that yesterday’s life would return soon.

Awareness is dawning now, however, that returning to the “old normal” is a long way off. Until we have a vaccine and herd immunity to COVID-19, our lives will have to include some measure of social distancing.

This realization makes me sad. We desire familiar social routines: laughing together at our favorite restaurant, visiting loved ones at the nursing home, working out together at the gym.

But we know that in order to fight this insidious disease, we have to make sacrifices. Folks have compared this pandemic to Jumanji, the unpredictable jungle game: we didn’t ask to join, we are fighting for our lives and those of our friends, and the rules change as we go along.

How can we navigate our “new normal” when the rules may change from month to month, or even week to week, depending on the spike or decline of cases in our region?

First, we can stay informed as to the current guidelines. Consulting more than one reputable news source regularly can help us fact-check and proceed with confidence. Trusting scientists and health officials’ recommendations, we can move forward together. 

Second, we can expect to move between sets of guidelines. As much as we would like to press the economy’s accelerator full speed ahead, we may have to occasionally shift into reverse. A serious spike in COVID-19 cases may require us to strategically resume a previous level of social isolation. Contact tracing and increased testing should help, but mentally we should be prepared for a “one step forward, two steps back” worst-case scenario.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we can choose to act for good. When the “new normal” troubles us, we have a choice: will we act in a way that makes others’ lives better, or will we react with vitriol that makes their lives worse?

When I am unsure of how to act, I think of one of my favorite quotes: “… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV Bible) There is no executive order against patience and kindness.

So as restrictions slowly lift and we interact with more and more people, will we be patient?  When we disagree about which way to move in a grocery aisle, will we be kind? When we perceive someone as fearful, will we be gentle?

May we choose to be a force for good in our communities and in our homes. This much we can control.

Chrissie Kaufmann is a group fitness instructor at the YMCA of Greater Michiana.

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